Ministering to Senior Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Catholics

In the spring of 2020, people everywhere turned inward as Covid-19 wormed its way through schools, workplaces, and overall society. While Plexiglass, Purel and prices went up, physical, emotional, and mental health plummeted. Face masks became mandatory and outdoor dining became the new norm. Everywhere people were reeling, trying to adjust to a “new normal” that seemed to pivot daily. For individuals who lived on the periphery of society, the pandemic threatened to ostracize them even further. This was especially true for the deaf and hard-of hearing-community for whom isolation and loneliness are real and present dangers.
These individuals rely heavily on lip-reading, facial expressions, and hearing aids, all of which were compromised with the mandated use of face masks. Furthermore, the pandemic brought with it an explosion of health information from government-based entities, but not accessible in American Sign Language (ASL). Social gatherings were highly discouraged and organized outings fell off calendars. The result was a creeping loneliness that added an extra layer of quarantine to an already vulnerable population.

Boston’s Deaf Apostolate Ministry felt the sting acutely. This Archdiocesan Ministry seeks to provide Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Catholics with greater access to faith, educational, and social opportunities. In pre-pandemic times, the group enjoyed a full schedule of activities that included field trips and many diverse experiences. Covid-19 brought an abrupt halt to their organized outings and the adults suddenly found themselves at home, alone, and missing not only their friends and social companions but their routine monthly visits to the Pastoral Center for Mass and lunch.
Now that the pandemic has entered a new phase and vaccinations have lessened the danger of contagion, the Deaf Apostolate has been re-grouping. However, the process has been slow. The price of bus transportation alone has skyrocketed and is cost-prohibitive. Remembering how things used to be elicits fond memories but also a painful realization that returning to that level of social interaction may be difficult.

After attending Mass recently at the Pastoral Center (a bimonthly routine), the group gathered for lunch and Bingo. Conversation centered around the group’s regrowth and ways to regain its momentum as an active ministry. “The group was so active before the pandemic,” Betty Whittaker, Senior Deaf Wellness Program Coordinator, remembered aloud. She turned to the assembled group, many of whom are close friends and/or neighbors and asked, “Do you recall some of our trips and experiences?”

The members did and quickly offered a list of shared memories. Bus trips to Fenway Park, the zoo, area churches, butterfly farms, and restaurants. Visits to the Aquarium and the Sandwich Glass Museum in Cape Cod. Lunch cruises, whale watching expeditions, apple picking, and wildlife excursions. Director of the Deaf Apostolate and Chaplain, Fr. Shawn Carey, happily recollected the time the group traveled to the Patriots Hall of Fame, a modern interactive museum.
It was clear that the Apostolate was once a vibrant ministry, one that they are eager to reboot. The wide-ranging menu of activities and experiences offered them opportunities to get out of the house, gather, and navigate their way through local attractions with other Catholics who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Where once Covid cornered them into silos, these adults are excited to rekindle relationships and fully participate in the post-Covid world. It is their hope and the hope of their families that renewed support will energize their efforts, create new experiences, and afford them opportunities to engage fully with their world. What Covid-19 took away, the future looks to restore: a positive sign that is not up for interpretation.
Thank you to Jenny Corbin, Apostolate Interpreter Coordinator, and Betty Whittaker for assisting with ASL interpretation for this story.

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